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Entries in lost (3)


Blue Highways: Fall River, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

Fall River, Massachusetts is where William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) tends to get lost.  As we're driving around with him in Ghost Dancing, trying to figure out our bearings, I'll write about how I usually have good directional sense, but how one city in New Mexico seems to confound my sense of place.  If you want to try to make sense of the maze of Fall River, get lost in the map.  The image at right, the black-capped chickadee, is the Massachusetts state bird.  It was drawn by Pearson Scott Foresman and is from Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"Fall River, Massachusetts, is chiefly memorable for me as the factory city I have never driven through without losing the way.  Once there - predictably, inexplicably, and utterly - I am confounded by the knots of concrete.  So, that day, entangled again, it was like old times."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 5

Downtown Fall River, Massachusetts. Photo by Marc N. Belanger and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Fall River, Massachusetts

LHM's Fall River is my Santa Fe.

Let me explain that.  I agree with LHM.  There are certain places where the laws of chance do not seem to apply.  I have written about getting lost before, but usually when I've been a place once I don't forget it.  For example, my parents had a little phobia about driving down in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They were rural Northern Californians in a town with, at the time, one stoplight.  Yet every so often we would have to drive south to the Bay Area.  Freeways with multiple on- and offramps were difficult for them to negotiate.  They didn't have many familiar landmarks.  They needed directions to be spelled out for them very minutely.  If they strayed off the beaten path, even getting off the freeway one exit too soon, they were soon completely, hopelessly lost.  Tensions rose in the car when we drove to the Bay Area.  I think that my parents were convinced that if they made a mistake, we all might end up missing or dead.  Nobody breathed normally, or felt safe, until we reached our destination.

In other words, the Bay Area was a maze that they had to negotiate.  As in a maze, one step off the true path could be their undoing, leaving them wandering in an unfamiliar and terrifying terrain that at best would be purgatory, and at worst a horrible hell.  If that meant they had to drive 45 miles an hour to make sure that they didn't miss an exit, so be it.

Fortunately for them, I had a very good memory.  If I had driven the way once, I could remember how to get there again.  They doubted me at first and didn't listen to my suggestions, but eventually they saw I was right and would ask me if they didn't remember themselves.

That ability to remember the way has stood me in good stead over the years, especially when it came to the Bay Area and along the California coast.  I also seemed to have good map memory, so that if I looked at a map and memorized the route on the map, I could usually figure it out with a minimum of hassle on the road.  The road signs were key - if they were missing then all bets were off - but I could still usually figure out the route even if there was a bit of trouble like that.  Of course, it always helped that I had the ocean within sensing distance on the west side of me.

I remember the first time that I really found myself turned around and having trouble figuring out where I was and what direction I should go.  I was, ironically, in a city laid out upon a pretty well-defined grid.  I had just moved to Milwaukee, and I think that without the ocean to orient me I was confused.  Milwaukee's grid runs pretty predictably north-south and east-west.  The north-south streets are all numbered, and Lake Michigan lies on the east side of the city.  But as I stood in a section of the inner-city, looking at street signs, I was briefly lost.  My difficulty may have been attributable to the fact that it was the first time that I ever had lived anywhere outside of California up to that point in my life.  Or, it may have been due to the unease I experienced in living in what was considered a sketchy, if  not dangerous, neighborhood.  But for the first time in my life, I really felt lost, and it seemed that something that defined me, my unerring instinct for direction, had abandoned me.

I recovered, but I was shaken.  I wondered if that was what it felt like to be truly lost?  I think that being lost isn't necessarily a bad thing if one knows that one has resources to find oneself.  But to be hopelessly lost, where one has no resources - THAT is the loneliest feeling in the world.

Now, I'll come back to Santa Fe.  I'm never really lost in Santa Fe.  It's just that I have never understood the city.  It follows no comfortable grid.  There are a couple of main streets that lead into the city from the interstate, but once you get away from those streets, it becomes more difficult to orient yourself.  Roads and streets meander back and forth.  If I lived there, these meandering ways might be fun to explore, but usually I am driving up from Albuquerque and have to be at a place at a certain time.  It has taken me eight years and countless trips for me to be comfortable enough to know my way to the main plaza, to the museums on Museum Hill, and maybe one or two other places.

As LHM says, however, the chance for me to become "predictably, inexplicably and utterly" lost is high.  At least it's not "hopelessly" lost.  In this case, it's simply an annoying lost.  But annoying is bad enough, especially when you're in a very small city and therefore which should be easy to understand and easy to get around.  I've come to think of it as a mental block that I have, and that my self-talk, operating in the background, sabotages me.  Or maybe I just like to complain about Santa Fe and the universe conspiring against me and I doom my chances to know the city streets before I even begin.  All I know is that it's damn frustrating!

Musical Interlude

I found a song entitled Mazes that I liked by a group called Moon Duo.  The lyrics speak of the emotional mazes we often find ourselves in.

Oh, did you know that Fall River is where Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one?

If you want to know more about Fall River

Battleship Cove
City of Fall River
Fall River Chamber of Commerce
Fall River Herald News (newspaper)
Fall River Historical Society

Next up: Newport, Rhode Island


Blue Highways: London and Brantford, Ontario

Unfolding the Map

Lost in Ontario sounds like it could be a movie.  But, it was William Least Heat-Moon's (LHM) experience when he took his shortcut through Ontario to New York.  Getting lost can be fun, if you are open to the experience.  For most of us, though, it is a pain.  For men, it can even be painful and the cure, asking directions, can be like surgery.  To see where we are lost, locate us on the map.

Book Quote

"....The showers kept at it, the traffic ran heavy.  I got lost in London, and again in Brantford; finally I was just driving, seeing nothing, waiting to get off the road."

Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 1

Downtown London, Ontario. Photo by xcommun and posted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

London and Brantford, Ontario

I think that I've written about getting lost before, but I'm going to revisit it in this post.  I think that when I wrote of it previously, I referred to the act of getting lost as a fine thing.  My logic was that as Americans, we tend to hurry from place to place and don't allow ourselves to, as my mom constantly reminds me, stop and smell the roses.

But getting lost isn't positive and fun if one is in a hurry or is feeling tired.  So you can sympathize a little with LHM when he says that he gets lost in both London and Brantford.  He wants to get out of the rain, he wants to get back into the US, and he wants to stop driving.  The way through Canada is longer than he thought. 

Men are often stereotyped as being unable or unwilling to ask directions.  We are seen as the ones that hold the maps, memorize them, and then promptly take wrong turns so that by the time that our wives or girlfriends or any othe female passenger has to be called in for assistance, the situation is completely hopeless.  Not only do we get in these scrapes, but we are often seen as stubborn to boot - we will happily lead our crews to the gates of Hell before we admit that we are wrong.

There is some truth to this.  I love maps, and read them all the time, and get pretty upset if my wife dares to suggest that I am wrong.  And I have been wrong.  It still sets my teeth on edge when I am, and there are times when I watch my wife read a map, turning it this way and that when I know, KNOW, the way to go.  But that is simply pride and hubris.  As Roseanne Barr once famously suggested about men and maps, "....Men can read maps better than women. 'Cause only the male mind could conceive of one inch equalling a hundred miles."

My theory is that men tend to appropriate directions and maps because they are socialized to do so.  After all, the things that men do involve making a series of logical steps from point A to point B.  We do this in many of the activities in which we participate in our daily lives.  Something needs to be fixed?  Simple, just follow certain steps and it will work.  Problem need to be solved?  Again, very simple.  Just do this, that and one last thing, and problem gone.  Need to get to a place?  No problem.  Just follow the lines.

However, sometimes the information flow comes too fast.  We might be flying down the freeway and have a moment where our attentions go elsewhere.  That causes us to miss the exit that we needed.  We had everything planned out from point A to point B - heck, we don't even need the map any more so we didn't bother to bring it.  This is where the cascade of failures begins.  We get off at an exit two or maybe three exits down the road.  However, instead of turning back on the freeway, we figure we'll be able to cut some time off by simply going over to the next road and doubling back.  We're pretty sure that's what the map indicated.  However, that road circles around into another entirely different direction, and ends up at a crossroads with signs pointing to two towns whose names we never even heard of. 

By now, our pride is involved.  We've probably been arguing with our wife or girlfriend, who has been suggesting the most logical choice of going back to the freeway and back to the next exit all along.  Going back is out of the question in our male mind because it would be a monumental failure and tantamount to a dereliction of duty.  So, taking our best guess, we head toward one of the towns, only to realize that it was farther than we thought and we are hopelessly lost.  At that point, usually we resort to sending our female companion into a gas station to ask for directions.  We sit in the car, embarrassed, because we can imagine the station attendant looking at her with pity, and glancing at us with a slight expression of disgust at how that man could have so failed in this important masculine duty.

Of course, I am generalizing a lot here.  There are plenty of women who do their own navigation and hate having to ask directions.  There are plenty of men who do not get locked up in this comedy of errors.  My wife, for instance, doesn't like asking for directions and I am usually the one who will get out and talk to the gas station attendant.  But, the stereotypes ring true to me because I see that tendency in myself.  I love maps, I love to read them and I love to use them in that logical point A to point B way.

One of the reasons I love writing the Littourati blog is that my logical, rational, straight ahead point A to point B brain gets its satisfaction out of the pure fun of mapping these trips that authors have taken.  My creative, not so logical or rational brain, gets its fun by allowing itself to take these points on the map and connect them to whatever is inside me and putting it down for me, and ultimately whoever comes to the Littourati page, to see.  It's a great way for me to meld these two sides of my mind and, if the side benefit is that I will avoid cascading direction failure because either I allow myself to just be lost for a while and explore what's out there or I at least allow myself to admit my failure, ask directions and move on, then so be it.

Getting lost CAN be fun.  But if you're going someplace where your choices are bounded by time and necessity, you don't want to be lost, you just want to be there.  As our GPS navigation devices get better and better, chances are less that people will get lost.  In some ways, particularly for our efficiency and or time-effectiveness, that's great news.  In other ways, and particularly in the case of those chance amazing discoveries we might make because of being lost, that's a shame.  But have no fear.  We'll always have places to go, and most of the time, we'll get there whether we get lost or not.

Musical Interlude

I typed in The Google a query about songs referencing being lost, and this song, Destination Unknown by the appropriately named Missing Persons, came up.  I liked Missing Persons back in the day, and had forgotten about this song.  It fits, and I'll share it.

If you want to know more about London and Brantford

Brantford Expositor (newspaper)
City of Brantford
City of London
Discover Brantford
Fanshawe College
London Community News (newspaper)
London Free Press (newspaper)
The Londoner (newspaper)
Scene (London newspaper)
Tourism London
University of Western Ontario
Wikipedia: Brantford
Wikipedia: London

Next up:  Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, New York


Littourati News: On hiatus for a few days

Hi Littourati!  I'm sorry to say there will be no more new posts until after February 23rd.  There are two reasons for this, one fun and one stupid.

1)  I am going to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  I have done this every year since I moved there in 2000, and have continued it even after I moved away.  It is a great time of year where people just have fun up to Lent, where then one becomes sober and turns one's mind to self-reflection and spirituality.  I don't know if I do that, but I enjoy the fun.  And it's not THAT kind of fun, either.  My Mardi Gras is mostly family friendly.  Yes, I did say mostly...

2)  Oh no!  I somehow have misplaced my Blue Highways.  I laid my copy down and now I can't find it.  So even if I wanted to do a new post, I'll have to buy a new copy.  I had hoped that I could get a Kindle version for my phone, but it isn't coming out until April.  Oh well...

For those reasons, there will be a few days until the next post centered on Lake Itasca, Minnesota.  But don't worry...the posts will come back in style after the 23rd.

In the meantime, laissez lais bontemps roulet!

Michael Hess